Chamonix Climbing Series: Aiguille Du Tour
For climbers and hikers living in Britain and Europe, Chamonix is well known as one of the best spots for mountains and ridges without leaving the continent. Being home to Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe at 4,810 metres (Russia's Mount Elbrus takes the overall crown at 5,642m), the valley has good reason for being seen as a European mountain paradise. But there is much more to Chamonix than its highest white mountain.
Aiguille Du Tour
Standing at 3,540m, the Aiguille du Tour is one such example in the Mont Blanc massif (mountain range) that certainly deserves consideration for a potential summit. Do-able in a day (but usually done over two), it offers a great combination of dry hiking, glacier traversing and rock scrambling to a final summit. Ascending from the French (Chamonix) side, the route typically begins via the Charamillon cable cars lift, followed by a couple of hours hiking at good pace uphill on the ascent, with spectacular views throughout.
Climbing in the summer months, from June to September, this will generally be snow-free until you reach the main refuge on the French side - the Albert Premier Hut (also known as the 'Albert 1er'), a combination of a small older cabin and a larger, newer facility, both standing at 2,700m. This is a good point to stop for a break, fill your water bottle and get some lunch, with a selection of food available if you haven't brought your own.
This hut is a lively place throughout the summer season, serving up to 140 climbers attempting the Aiguille du Tour, the Aiguille du Chardonnet, or the entire Haute Route between Chamonix and Zermatt (Switzerland), but be aware that the main (newer) hut is only staffed from May to September. In the winter, only the smaller building is in use, which sleeps up to 30 people. The hut's location near to the glacier is perfect for getting some training in on the ice without needing to travel particularly far from the lodge, which can allow you to explore the area and prepare for an ascent on the following day if you choose not to do it all in one day. If you do stay at the hut for the night, the views at dusk and dawn more than compensate for the affordable cost of a bed.
With an early morning, or a continued single day ascent planned, the route then takes you across the glacier, calling time to bring out the crampons and to rope up to your climbing partner(s). The route then takes you past more spectacular views of surrounding mountains on the ascent towards the summit.
The ascent towards to the summit of the Aiguille du Tour typically is done by a steep uphill climb up and over a ridge south of the summit. This uphill climb brings crampons into full use and is one of the most exerting parts of the entire ascent, due to very steep gradient, solid ice and potential for dangerous rockfall from wind, ice-melt, and other climbers. Equally, it requires you to be careful and mindful of any others ascending behind you, as your own steps can trigger rockfall towards them; if this does happen then it is always responsible to shout down to warn them in good time.
The time of ascent can also affect the visibility. In the early morning, the sun will typically be hidden the other side of the valley, making the climbing side darker, as shown above. Therefore, some may choose to make a summit attempt later in the day when visibility is better.
When you do complete this ascent and cross over the ridge, around to the back of the Aiguille du Tour summit, the views of the other side of the valley are astounding. From here the Matterhorn can also be seen in the distance with a good set of eyes.
The path then continues up to the left for a short while, at most 30 minutes work of uphill walk (to remain roped at all times), before a final rocky scramble to the summit. If you summit on a clear day then the views are well worth the climb, particularly for one that is do-able in one or two days.
The descent follows the same path taken to reach the summit, a scramble down off the rock, a walk around the back to the south ridge, then a long path back past the Albert Premier Hut to the cable cars. Travelling in the opposite direction offers new perspectives on the surrounding mountains, so the journey doesn't get boring on the return.
Crevasses are frequent across the path, so roping up with a climbing partner or mountain guide is essential.Overall the Aiguille du Tour is a good summit that can be done in a short amount of time from Chamonix, and offers a great combination of hiking, scrambling and glacier skills before reaching a summit.
Stay tuned to the Chamonix Climbing Series for more great summit ideas based from Chamonix.